Issue #109 (January 15, 2001)

This particular column is comprised of several topics that eventually connect to one another. Each of the topics is on the minds of various AAR staff, including myself. In some instances we're going to talk about topics, leading into a discussion of specific books and in other instances talking about a particular book will open into a more general discussion. First up is, as AAR Reviewer Maria K. refers to it, AIR Syndrome.

AIR Syndrome refers to Amnesia in Romance. This is not a premise I enjoy in romance novels because it seems as though there are nearly as many amnesiac heroes or heroines as there are drop-dead gorgeous characters that are secret agents. I'm probably more likely to run across a Mark Harmon look-alike CIA agent than I am an amnesiac hero, but the reality of coming across either on a daily basis is slim. I don't say I have never enjoyed a romance featuring amnesia, but it's generally something of a pet peeve for me, White Lies by Linda Howard (featuring both amnesia and secret operatives) aside. Am I in the minority on the amnesia romance? Perhaps - one of our Special Title Listings, created on behalf of readers by request, is Amnesia. . . Or Not.

Maria K., who works in the world of neurology, sets the record straight with the following discussion of AIR Syndrome. She cautions, however, that if your reading pleasure is easily spoiled by factual mistakes, her discussion might turn you off amnesia stories forever. Below is an excerpt from an article Maria has written for us on the topic.

Amnesia in Romance
(AIR Syndrome)

The incidence of amnesia among romance novel characters appears a lot higher than in the general population. Lost identity is a convenient narrative device to make the characters start anew, and blank history provides beautifully for Big Secrets, Big Misunderstandings and Suspense. An amnesia story can be engaging drama.

Unfortunately, the dramatic effect is often spoiled for me by the realization that the injury story is a complete fabrication. The word amnesia may sound scientific and impressive but Amnesia In Romance (AIR) has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with air-headed research. Many novels romanticize head injury and portray amnesia patients in a completely unrealistic manner.

You know the drill. The heroine gets hit on the head by a villain, loses her consciousness, might stay comatose for a while, wakes up feeling comparatively healthy despite a slight headache and says: "I can't remember who I am." She does not recognize her own mirror image or the faces of her most intimate friends and family. The hero who rescued her invites her to live with him and falls in love with her. They go on a quest to solve a complex mystery involving the heroine's identity and a number of dangerous situations, and the heroine appears to be fully functional if not for the small problem that she can't remember anything about her past. They have mind-blowing sex. She starts to get painful flashbacks of her past and then, suddenly, everything comes back to her just when the villain is planning another attack on her. The hero foils the evil plan and everything's perfect again.

In reality, amnesia may be caused by brain injury, oxygen deprivation, stroke, brain hemorrhage, brain infections, delirium, substance abuse, transient global amnesia and a number of dementing illnesses. In romance novels, however, characters usually get amnesia after a head injury. This is perhaps an obvious choice, since there's nothing romantic about alcoholic delirium and many of the above conditions would at least temporarily require hospitalization or physically disable the patient, thus preventing her from going out after the criminals. Also, having the twentysomething heroine to develop Alzheimer's disease would be a stretch.

A romance novel about a real life patient with severe amnesia could read something like this: Heroine gets hit by a car right after she's met the hero for the first time. Surprise, the romantic rescuer doesn't fall in love with her, as he's a paramedic who can stomach gruesome sights like blood and bruising without getting mushy. She's in coma for five days. When she wakes up she's aphasic and has decreased muscle strength on the right side of her body. She recovers from aphasia gradually with the aid of speech therapy but her right hand stays weaker than the left one. She needs anti-epileptic medication.

She's got severe retrograde amnesia: when asked she states that she's seventeen years younger than her actual age and that the current president of the USA is Jimmy Carter. She does not remember anything about the meeting with the hero. She's got anterograde amnesia as well, she has difficulty remembering the name of the hero who comes to visit her and she frequently forgets conversations and appointments. Gradually her condition improves and she gets to leave the hospital but they won't let her go home alone so she moves back to her parents who take care of all the practical matters as she has trouble concentrating and is too prone for errors to handle any complicated machinery or large amounts of money. Her temper becomes more irritable which is really hard for her parents and the hero.

She promises to leave on a romantic vacation with him, to fix their relationship up, but the plan falls through because she can't remember where they were supposed to meet each other. She goes to the wrong place at the wrong time, forgetting her passport, and can't ring his mobile because she does not remember the number. She wanders around confused, wants to go home, takes a cab and tells the driver the address where she used to live when she was nine years old.

In the meantime, the hero is angry for being stood up and figures she's too unreliable and probably doesn't even love him. Even though he got a brochure he's got difficulty understanding the problems in their relationship are mostly due to her head injury symptoms. Finally he decides that he wants a partner who can take care of him instead of the other way around. He goes to Barbados alone to lick his wounds and if he's lucky he could meet a pretty non-amnesiac pregnant virgin. We have to wait for the sequel to find out if the amnesic heroine ever finds true love. Fade to pink.

(To read Maria's article in its entirety, please click here.)

Amnesia isn't the only convention that shows up with alarming regularity in romance novels. AAR Reviewer Teresa Galloway next discusses The Undead.

The Undead

Is it just me, or is there a recent surfeit of romance novels with first husbands who won't stay dead? This is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. The basic plot goes as follows: heroine is originally married (or sometimes just engaged) to some brute or wastrel who conveniently dies in time for her to take up with our hero. Yet the hallmark of these novels is that when the guy dies (drumroll please) there is never a body to bury! As soon as this happens, there may as well be red flashing lights all over the text announcing that the first husband is not really dead, but merely injured or lost, waiting to show up again at some later date to ruin everything again for our heroine. Inevitably, hubby number one will show up on The Day of Maximum Inconvenience (TDOMI) and seem to spoil the expected HEA for our h/h. Never fear, for number one's life expectancy at this point is always short. We simply have to wait around for him to die again and all will be well.

You would think that this would be a plot device reserved for desperate authors who need to manufacture conflict and don't know how. But in my experience, it seems as if many highly acclaimed writers have succumbed to the plot device in recent years. (Note: I intend to provide some examples here to bolster my position, so you may want to stop reading now if knowing that some guy comes back from the dead constitutes a spoiler for you. To my mind, the fact that there is no body to bury constitutes foreshadowing of the most obvious sort in these novels, so I don't feel I'm giving anything away that the author doesn't as well.)

Patricia Gaffney is widely considered one of the best writers of historical romance, and yet even she used the Undead Husband plot at least once. In To Love and To Cherish (set in England in 1854) Anne Verlaine is married to a wastrel who supposedly dies in the first quarter of the book while fighting abroad (a very popular way for romance authors to fake a first husband's death). This allows Anne and the Reverend Christian Morrell to quietly begin a love affair that must remain secret since she is supposed to be in mourning. On the very day that Anne and Christy plan to announce their betrothal to the town, husband number one returns from his adventures to unknowingly ruin their plans and depress the heck out of everyone. It's bad enough that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, but to have him return on TDOMI is just too much. It comes as no surprise that he's not long for this world. At least for death number two we have a body.

Lorraine Heath is another excellent writer of historicals, though hers are usually set in the American West. Yet in A Rogue in Texas (set in post-Civil-War Texas), she too falls into the trap of resurrecting a husband who will only have to be killed off again. Here the ex-husband has been thought dead for quite some time, having been lost during some Civil War battle. He doesn't come back until just about the end of the novel, and then, like Rasputin, he has yet another near-death experience where the hero gets to save his life before he can finally die as required for the HEA. Some guys are just hard to kill. (And I wasn't the only one who thought it was obvious the guy wasn't dead the first time - one of my colleagues here at AAR - Linda Hurst - thought so too)

Sometimes we even get multiple undead sightings. In The Passion by Nicole Jordan (set in 1813 England), Aurora Demming has to endure the resurrections of two men: her original fiancé, and Nicholas Sabine, her eventual husband. Aurora is depressed at the death of her fiancé (conveniently killed while abroad) and agrees to marry Nicholas who is sentenced to die. She doesn't hang around to see the actual hanging, so misses the fact that she's not a widow after all. The undead Nicholas returns to England to court his wife, and they slowly fall in love until (can you guess?) her first love and fiancé - who was actually not dead, what a surprise - shows up again and causes all sorts of jealousy in Nicholas (who does she really love?). Luckily for the first fiancé, he doesn't have to die again to solve this problem.

The second husband in Merline Lovelace's The Horse Soldier (set in Wyoming in 1867) is not so lucky. Here again we get multiple resurrections. Julia Robichaud married Andrew Garrett when both were young and innocent. But he was a Union spy so her Southern uncle ambushed and killed him (or so she thought). Seven years later she is married again, this time to a gambler (why can these women never find two good men to marry?) who leaves her to seek his fortune. Enter Andrew, who chances to run into her again just as she hears news of the second husband's death. But wait! There's no body! Will this woman never learn? If Andrew didn't really die, then why should she assume that husband two has died unless she personally embalms the corpse? Julia and Andrew inevitably fall in love again, just to be surprised by husband two, (can you guess?) on TDOMI. Sadly for husband two, if he lives there can be no HEA, so it's off with his scalp as soon as can be arranged.

The four books above are just the ones I have read myself in the last year. When I mentioned my pet peeve to my friends at AAR, they provided more examples, also by some of the best writers in the business: Blythe mentioned Tangled by Mary Balogh, Linda and LLB listed Saving Grace by Julie Garwood, and Sandi mentioned Twice Loved by LaVyrle Spencer. In fact these were all cited as books that were successful despite the plot device, and so were meant as examples for how it can be done well. But the books I mentioned before were not meant as examples of bad books per se. In fact, three of the ones I listed were either Desert Isle Keepers for me or close to it. Only one failed utterly for me - The Passion - but not because of this plot device alone.

Indeed, most of the time this plot device only comes into play towards the end of a book anyway, so it isn't enough to make or break a book by itself (which is why most of these are near-DIK's for me despite the return of the undead). Yet even though I obviously enjoy these writers and even liked most of these books, I have become royally sick of this plot device. It is no longer surprising (if it ever was) and often is completely unnecessary.

In The Horse Soldier for instance, I felt there was quite enough conflict in the book already, and the addition of the Undead Husband plot added nothing, and even detracted some from my enjoyment. Likewise, the resurrection of the fiancé in The Passion was wholly pointless and served no real function. It was just a way to prolong the ending, and quite frankly, if the ending isn't interesting enough without a "surprise" resurrection, then nothing will save it. So why do we keep seeing it?

Until the endings, most of the conflict in both A Rogue in Texas and To Love and To Cherish was internal, focusing on the characters' motivations and reservations against marriage. Heath and Gaffney are excellent authors, so in their hands such internal conflict can be as exciting as a lesser author's action-packed novel. Maybe they felt that bringing the first husband back was a way to add some external conflict and spice up the story, but my own reaction was that it only detracted from the love stories I had been interested in up to that point.

For me, resurrecting a husband whom was thought to be dead can sometimes work, but only if this is the initial premise of the book. This could allow two people to fall in love for a second time, as was done in both The Horse Soldier and The Passion. It was when the authors resorted to a repeat offense at the end that these books became ridiculous. It's unlikely enough for a heroine to mistake one person's death, but twice in the same book? Judging by these books you'd think that a hundred to two hundred years ago people were overwhelmed with the problem of properly identifying corpses. Of course there must have been mistakes on occasion, but not with the frequency it happens in these novels, and certainly not twice to the same woman! And if a man is resurrected at the end only to be a convenient villain it just seems too contrived and pointless since he has to die again anyway.

It was my original belief that this device was only used in historicals, since at least in historicals you can blame the confusion on loss of telegrams or slow means of travel back from abroad. Yet Sandi tells me that she's seen this used in contemporaries as well, such as the short story Timeless by Kathryn Korbel in the Silhouette Shadows '93 anthology. However, I'd be willing to bet that it is used a lot less frequently in contemporaries. In contrast to contemporaries, in historicals having an unwanted spouse constitutes a greater problem since divorces were not as easy to come by (which is what leads all these poor men to have to die all over again so our h/h can have their HEA) and so supposedly makes for more nail-biting drama. I'm not sure how an author makes this plot device convincing in a contemporary (if she even can), but at least the poor sod won't have to be killed off again at the end.

In addition to all that I've already mentioned, one thing that especially bugs me about this plot device is that I've never read one where the hero and heroine actually manage to get married before the first husband shows up again to ruin the day. That's what I mean by TDOMI - the undead husbands inevitably show up just as the h/h have worked out all their other problems and are about to tie the knot. It's as if these authors can't help but add one last cliffhanger before they can bring the book to a close. It drives me batty.

I purposely chose the original examples to show that the best writers in the genre are using this plot device, but of course it isn't limited to them. In addition to the contemporary Sandi mentioned, another historical example is Sandra Lee's Falling For Her. I'm sure that there are many others as well that I'm not aware of. Regardless of who is doing the writing though, this is one plot device I'd be happy to see die...

And stay dead.

The Virginal Hero, the Duke of Slut, and the Ascetic Hero:
I recently read a post on one of our message boards or discussion lists about religious men as heroes for romance novels. What immediately came to mind were Catherine Hart's Irresistible, Patricia Gaffney's previously mentioned To Love and to Cherish, and Catherine Coulter's new release, The Scottish Bride. And, in a strange way, The Scottish Bride reminds me of another book I just read, This Perfect Kiss, by Christy Ridgway. Both feature heroes trying to live up to an extreme moral code. And what did this bring to my mind? A recent discussion among our staff about the allure of Virginal Heroes.

We have, based on reader request, a Special Title Listing devoted to Virginal Heroes. Although I've enjoyed a couple of romances featuring this character type, it's not what drew me to the stories. I much prefer the fantasy of a sexually experienced hero, perhaps even a once-debauched sexually experienced hero who comes to heal/heel at the foot by the love of a good woman. So when our staff started to talk about virginal heroes, I put to them this question:

We have a list of virginal heroes because it was asked for, but virginal heroes don't do much for me, even though I thought Lorraine Heath handled it well in Always to Remember. Then, of course, there's Gabaldon's Jamie, but the general concept doesn't hit me in the same way as it does other readers. What is the allure?

Here's what members of the AAR family had to say, and though I won't name names, two of our reviewers find this particularly romantic because they married men whose first sexual encounters were with them:

Teresa: While I like virginal heroes, I appreciate it even more if they're virginal by choice (like Jamie) instead of due to cruelty (like in Always to Remember, though I did like that book a lot). I guess it stems from me not liking the Duke of Slut, and the virginal hero is his antithesis. And, in historicals in particular, it stops me from worrying about weird diseases. To be perfectly honest, none of the contemporary virginal hero romances I've read have been any good. I still hold out hope that it can be done and done well.
Jennifer S.: I've only ever read two books with virginal heroes that I can think of off the top of my head - Outlander and Devereux's The Invitation. I liked the idea of the guy saving himself for his one true love. It shows what high esteem he holds the heroine in, that no one else was good enough before her.

At the same time, I think this particular angle is really hard to do well. I doubt it would work in a contemporary setting, unless it was an inspirational romance where the hero had very strong religious beliefs. Even in a historical setting it's a little hard to believe. I think Jamie worked in Outlander because he was still pretty young, only 23 when the book takes place, and well Jamie is really larger than life. So it's believable he'd save himself for Claire. As for William in The Invitation, I'm sure there is something a little twisted about falling in love with one's childhood babysitter when they're six years old and then saving themselves 30 years for her, but it worked because he was so devoted to her.

I just think there's something about a guy that saves himself for the heroine. Maybe because it's so rare and unheard of. It's a nice contrast to the Duke of Slut.

Mary: I love virginal heroes. I don't think I've ever met one I didn't like. Most often, virgin heroes get paired up with experienced women. I like the idea of initiating someone to the big secret. There's often also more of an attempt to portray the event from the man's point of view, which I like. Favorites: Wild Oats and Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi, and Gabaldon's Outlander.

It's also nice when the hero and heroine are initiating each other, e.g. Samuel and Leda in Kinsale's The Shadow and The Star.

I'm really sick of the fixation most writers (publishers?) have on portraying female virginity. I found this subject deeply fascinating until I lost mine. Since then, I'd just as soon that she know what she's doing, but I don't mind seeing him fumble around a bit. It turns the tables on all those other lost-virginity setups.

My perception of this could be skewed, but part of the reason that virgin heroes and villains-turned-heroes are my favorite tropes is that as a rule, only the better writers attempt them at all. You have to want to stretch the boundaries to try either of those, and a willingness to stretch boundaries is often accompanied by other important skills. So a lot of my favorite writers appear on each of those lists, as they do on the lists of Less-than-Perfect/Beautiful Characters.

Maria K: I haven't read any of the books on this particular Special Title List and I can't remember any virginal heroes off the top of my head so I'm not the expert here. But the concept seems to me very appealing and I'm planning to pick up some of the most recommended titles some day.

The first and the most important reason is that it's so rare. Virgin heroines abound - boring. But even if the hero is not a dissolute rake, he's almost never a virgin. A virgin hero could be a special person, or at least a change from the usual love scene.

I don't believe all men had dozens of mistresses or visited prostitutes even in the old days. There's got to be some who went to church and heeded the words of their ministers and/or parents about the sanctity of marriage and sinfulness of premarital sex. Even if there were double standards making affairs more acceptable for men I don't think everyone took advantage of it. For example, in England 1812, religious expectations were stricter and were a more integral part of the society daily life than today when we've got so many different religions and people who don't practice religion. And even if we're not talking about deeply committed Christians, society would have considered chastity as the right thing; many people looked down upon men who associated with the demimonde.

In historicals, before condoms became common (when was that, anyway?), there are grim realities like diseases and illegitimate babies and poor serving maids dying of illegal abortions. I just don't like the idea getting into bed with someone who's done it with everyone and their aunt if there's a chance he might bring his past into it. Upper class men who seduce maids everywhere they go do not seem to have much regard for women and the bleak futures the unwed mothers and their offspring might face, and it makes it more difficult to like them.

Even in contemporary settings some women are more experienced than their lovers. Girls often go out with boys a bit older than they are and consequently may start their sex lives earlier than boys of their age. Some people do marry their first girlfriends.

I don't believe that men who visit prostitutes before falling in love make much better lovers than virgin heroes. Prostitution is usually about male pleasure, not female pleasure, and the customers usually don't focus on learning how to pleasure the prostitute.

Teresa had a counter question for me: What's the allure of the non-virginal hero? She agrees with Maria K. and said, "the idea that through experience he gets to be a better lover doesn't really wash for me. Do we really think whores take the time to instruct their customers to be better lovers? I'd rather the couple learn about making love together."

Teresa has a point; one of the reasons I enjoyed The Scottish Bride was because the hero and heroine learned about making love together. The hero from Coulter's new historical is a widower. He's a dour vicar with a very Calvinist outlook, and never enjoyed making love with his first wife. He has looked down his nose at his brothers and their wives very active love lives - until he makes love to his new wife. His discovery of the joys of the marriage bed make for some wonderful reading, as do the scenes throughout the last quarter of the book as he wavers back and forth between his long-held beliefs and how to reconcile them to his newer experiences.

While there's no doubt I enjoy romances featuring rakes and rogues, I realize that men go to whores for their own gratification, not to learn how to become great lovers. It's more than a little ironic that we've spent much of this column decrying the lack of believability in romances featuring amnesiacs and undead husbands, but I'll say with a straight face that I haven't given too much thought to how those rakes became fabulous lovers able to initiate their heroines into the throes of passion with multi-orgasmic deflowerings. These men somehow learned; these men are somehow fabulous in the sack. But I find it very romantic for a womanizer to turn into a one-woman man. In real life it seems unbelievable - Warren Beatty and Annette Bening notwithstanding.

Given that the Duke of Slut in reality is not at all appealing to me, why do I prefer him in romance novels? I'm sure we've all noticed that in most instances where the hero is a virgin, the heroine is instead the character with some sexual experience. There's a balance there that seems to work. Because most historicals feature virginal heroines, I'd prefer her first experience did not come at the hands of a fumbling and bumbling man. Even in contemporary romances where neither character is a virgin, I continue to find it enormously romantic when a slutty hero experiences something in lovemaking with the heroine that he didn't find with his countless other partners. It somehow makes the hero all that more masculine and manly.

A perfect example of the transformation of the Duke of Slut can be found in Stephanie Laurens' upcoming release, All About Love. The hero of this book, like the heroes from the entire Cynster series is intensely male. Alasdair Reginald Cynster, widely known as Lucifer, is that last male member of his family to fall prey to that horrible disease known as love and commitment. But when he meets Phyllida Tallent, he's a goner, and he spends the remainder of the book convincing her that marriage to him would be a very good thing. Lucifer is drop-dead gorgeous, ultra-masculine, and very sure of himself, all of which is tied up with his sexuality.

Though Laurens has been accused of over-doing the love scenes in this series, this book had just the right amount. Lucifer, as with the rest of his family, is a fabulous lover, and his skillful lovemaking with Phyllida makes for some wonderful love scenes. There's one moment late in the book that is absolutely priceless - Phyllida is experimenting on him when "Lucifer laid back and tried to think of England." Had Lucifer not been as experienced as he was, this line would never have worked.

But I digress - I'd like to get back to that dour vicar from The Scottish Bride. There is something quite romantic about that moment when a hero whose moral code is based on a denial of pleasure realizes what he's been missing, and I'm not only talking about sex. I'm fascinated by the Knights Templar, for instance, those warriors who lived as celibates in order to fight for the glory of God.

Whenever I read a romance featuring an ascetic hero, I envision his life in shades of gray - without color. When such a hero meets his heroine and gives himself over to the pleasures life has to offer, I always envision a profusion of color washing over him. The stark grayness of his life is lifted and instead he's surrounded by a colorful and fragrant garden. It's not just sex, his overall enjoyment of life increases dramatically, and he becomes a better person.

Which brings me to Christie Ridgway's This Perfect Kiss. The hero in this book is determined to live a scandal-free life because his father and grandfather were both quite scandalous. But Rory Kincaid's straight-laced political ambitions are in danger of blowing up when he meets Jilly Skye. Now, Rory does not live as an ascetic, and he certainly has plenty of sexual experience, but he tries to deny himself involvement with Jilly, who has plenty of her own issues related to intimacy. This book came thisclose to earning DIK status from me; it is explosive, intense, and quite an emotional read. He does become a better person when he lightens up and allows himself to feel all that he's denied himself.

Here's the Question:
While I haven't read Christie Ridgway before and don't know if Rory and Jilly represent the types of characters she's known for, the hero and heroine from Stephanie Laurens' upcoming release are the norm for her Cynster series. The hero is a rake who falls in love quickly and pursues an independent-minded heroine afraid of marriage. On the other hand, Tysen Sherbrooke is not at all like his Sherbrooke brothers, nor is he like most of Catherine Coulter's other heroes. Most of the books she is most famous for, including The Sherbrooke Bride, feature very sexually adventurous heroes. Not only are they quite sexual, but they are usually alpha men verging on being alpha heels. While Night Storm, written in 1989, did not feature a typical Coulter hero, most of her books until fairly recently have starred heroes many readers don't care for.

Then, in 1997, The Wild Baron was released - its hero was not what I'd come to expect - he was a nice guy masquerading as a rake - and frankly, I was thrilled. I was similarly thrilled with the hero in The Courtship; although a rake, he was not a heel. Tysen Sherbrooke represents another big change for Coulter, and though I sense I'm one of the few of our readers who still reads and enjoys Coulter, I'm with her for the duration.

We've talked many times before about authors who change their styles. When we fall in love with authors, we often fall in love with a specific style of writing, a time period, a sub-genre - something that tends to remain consistent from book to book. This is not always the case - some authors have great success in spite of or because of books that are different in terms of sub-genre, setting, and style. While most successful authors have readers that follow them throughout changes in their writing over the years, there are readers who can't accept these changes. I know that romantic suspense is not a sub-genre I choose to read often; when favorite authors take that route, I'll often take a pass at the bookstore. If you look at my bookshelves under "Linda Howard," you'll see many of her series titles, but what is missing are all of her single title romantic suspense titles. Am I missing some great stuff? No doubt, but there you have it.

Back in a November ATBF, I quoted AAR Reviewer Christine Peterson as saying she'd prefer authors like Judith McNaught to "go back to writing love stories that are just love stories!" After we published that column, Christine thought about it some more and wanted to add to that. Here's what else she has to say:

I Think I'll Take a Pass

In the film Stardust Memories, Woody Allen plays a filmmaker at a professional crossroads. In a scene that perfectly captures his frustration he meets a fan who tells him she "loves all his movies, especially the earlier, funnier ones."

Judith McNaught was an important part of my romance history. Whitney, My Love was the first decent romance I ever read. Two of her other titles - Perfect and Paradise rank among my all time favorites. After I read Night Whispers, I was so disappointed that I vowed never to buy one of her books again. This was not the first time I didn't like one of her books; Remember When was completely forgettable. So what was it about Night Whispers that made me react so strongly, why was I taking it personally? It's hard to nail it down exactly, but it's like when you see an old friend and they have changed so much that there is no trace of whatever made you friends with them in the first place. While Remember When may have been mediocre, but at least it was recognizably McNaught. Night Whispers may have been written by a completely different person as far as I was concerned.

"I had a similar experience with Luanne Rice. I have her entire backlist on my keeper shelf. I bought Cloud Nine while it was still in hardcover, and once the initial euphoria wore off, I realized it had been an underwhelming reading experience. I chalked it up as one time thing and bought Follow The Stars Home in the same flurry of excitement. That one I didn't even finish. The change here was subtler. She has always written about weighty subjects but the tone of the more recent work has become a more mainstream tearjerker variety. Again, I made the decision not to buy her books, at least not new, in the future.

"I embrace (sometimes grudgingly) the right of artists to grow. I'm sure these writers’ lives have changed over the years and for their own reasons have decided to take their work in a different direction. I also have no doubt that the very books that left me cold, others enjoyed.

"Allow me to play the other side here, What if Judith NcNaught decided to model all her books after Perfect or Whitney? What about the authors that do use consistent settings and storylines over a long period of time? Do you admire them as ardently as you did when you first started reading them? Or have they been replaced by something fresher like a Rachel Gibson or Jenny Cruise? Do some of the pillars of the romance community like Nora Roberts or Linda Howard stay on top by switching genres? Personally, I think Linda Howard is the bees knees but they are some books in her backlist I feel no desire to read, like Son of The Morning. It may be Linda, but it's time travel, which is not my thing.

"So I pose the question, when it comes to buying, which comes first: the writer or the book? If SEP came out with a paranormal romance or Carla Kelly wrote a gritty New Orleans crime drama, would you roll with it or take a pass?"

As with all good topics for discussion, Christine's has two (at least!) equally valid sides. On one hand, for an artist to stay fresh, she has to challenge herself, which may mean going into a completely different direction. Unfortunately, readers who have grown to love an artist's voice might not want to go along for the ride. On the other hand, how many times have we complained that, in a favorite author's latest book, she seemed to have plagiarized herself? It seems both change and familiarity can breed contempt.

Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:

AIR Syndrome - Are you a fan of the amnesia romance? Regardless of whether or not you are, do you think it's been overdone? Did you realize before reading Maria K's segment that so many authors get it wrong? Does it matter? What are some of your favorite amnesia romances, and why? What are some amnesia romances you thought were poorly done, and why?
The Undead - Have you noticed how many romance novel characters don't die the first time? Is this a romance novel staple that is being put to good use or is it overdone? In Teresa's case, it's not a book-killer, but it might be in the future. Which romances have you read where this premise is employed? Which have you enjoyed? Which ones could you have done without?
The Virginal Hero - Do you find romances with virginal heroes particularly alluring? Is it something you have read before and enjoyed? Is it a theme you actively look for in romances? Do you prefer the virginal hero to the Duke of Slut? Have you found our Special Title Listing for Virginal Heroes helpful? Or, do you find the idea of a virginal hero utterly unromantic?
The Duke of Slut - Do you find romances with the Duke of Slut particularly alluring? How did he get to be so good in bed if he's only been with prostitutes or mistresses, both of whom he pays for pleasure? Do you prefer him to the virginal hero? Is he perhaps your favorite sort of romance hero or is he utterly unromantic to you?
The Ascetic Hero - We can broaden this heroic type to include stuffed-shirt heroes, but what are some romances you've read featuring an ascetic hero? Let's talk about him, let's talk about romances you enjoyed featuring this type of hero, and let's talk about romances you did not enjoy which starred this type of hero.
Christina Asks - "When it comes to buying, which comes first: the writer or the book?"
Don't Forget - Polling continues through February 15th for our annual reader poll. Make your vote today!

In conjunction with Maria K, Teresa Galloway, and Christine Peterson

Click here to join aarmaillist
Click to subscribe to AAR's twice-monthly mailing list